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Return of the Hillarybots: Why is the liberal media so afraid of Joe Biden?

Clinton's savvy liberal-media admirers want to throw the brakes on a Biden campaign. Do they fear the VP or Bernie?


Ben Norton
October 21, 2015 6:56PM (UTC)

Why are Hillary Clinton’s supporters and other liberal media stars so afraid of democracy?

These past few weeks, as Joe Biden reaches a final decision on whether or not he will run for president, there have been a slew of pieces emanating from the pro-Clinton camp, insisting that Biden running for president would be a bad idea, and even that he shouldn't do it.

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Writing in CNN, Julian Zelizer flatly insisted "Biden should not run." "The Democratic primary doesn't need Joe Biden," The Nation's Joan Walsh (a former Salon editor) declared. "I don’t, however, know a single person I’m aware of who wants Biden to get in," The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky glibly wrote. "And I’ve been asking. Journalists, activist types, policy wonks, political operatives."

How about asking the American people themselves? Reuters and Ipsos did exactly that in a recent poll, and found that close to half of Democrats want Biden to run for president. 48 percent of the Democratic constituency is very far from no one, but, no, "the smart play is for Biden to give a big speech saying how painful all this has been for him, how he respects all the candidates but Hillary Clinton in particular has been a great friend and is an amazing lady, and he’s going to sit it out." So Tomasky pronounces for the American people.

The problem is this is not how democracy works. If the American people want Biden to run for president, and Biden wants to run for president, he should run for president.

Those three pieces are by no means the only ones. Others in the torrent of "He Shouldn't Run for President Because I Don't Like Him" hot takes concern troll over Biden's legacy or disrespect to Sanders. What about considering what Biden and American voters want, for one? It's so transparently phony, it makes one wonder: Why do pundits seem so fearful of Biden's entry?

The most sensible answer, one might speculate, is that Clinton’s supporters are terrified that, if Biden enters the presidential race, he would split Clinton's votes.

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In other words, it seems to be about the Hillarybots' and other Clinton admirers' fear of Bernie Sanders.

Walsh claims that Biden could hurt Sanders by going after "working-class white men." In reality, however, Biden would likely eat into Clinton's voter base. Zelizer recognizes this, noting Biden's "base of support would be remarkably similar to" Hillary's.

Biden and Clinton have very similar political views. Biden is a bit less of a hawk, and Clinton has been much more reliable on reproductive rights, but, at the end of the day, the two candidates are incredibly similar. Biden "has a history of close ties with the financial industry that would not sit well with much of the electorate," as Zelizer notes. But there are few soi-disant progressive candidates as ingratiated with capital as Hillary. Wall Street has made her a millionaire, and continues to pump exorbitant sums of money into her campaign.

If things turned ugly, Clinton supporters could remind us of Biden's role during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. Biden backers might point to his early support of same-sex marriage, and to the Defense of Marriage Act, which became law under the last President Clinton, with the support of Hillary.

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Sanders, on the other hand, is significantly to the left of both, and serves as a breath of fresh air to Americans tired of the same old, same old in Washington.

The fact of the matter is that Sanders, in his call for a "political revolution," is pushing left-leaning Americans to rebel against the establishment with which they have been disillusioned for so long. Clinton, as the archetypal establishment politician, is clearly worried -- as is the Democratic establishment overall, which, more and more, sees not the increasingly out-of-touch Republican Party but rather Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist, as its biggest threat.

This can be observed in the campaign strategies taken by the leading candidates. Sanders is trying his hardest to make the presidential race about the issues, and only the issues. The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, has often tried to distract from the issues -- on which Clinton constantly changes her positions anyway -- and instead make the race about personalities, turning Hillary into a consumable brand, using fashionable social media tactics in (sometimes disastrous) hopes of wooing millennials.

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There is good reason the Clinton campaign has tried to do so. Clinton is to the right of Sanders on almost every single issue.

Wall Street loves Hillary -- and has thrown lots of money behind her. After all, this is a candidate who served on the board of directors for Wal-Mart -- the quintessence of U.S. capitalism -- for six years. And, even worse, Clinton remained silent for those years, as the mega-corporation crushed its workers' attempt to unionize.

Nowhere is this flagrant political contradiction more visible than in a comparison of Clinton's and Sanders' top donors. Eighteen (90 percent) of the top 20 contributors to Hillary Clinton since 1999 are corporations or provide services to corporations, while 19 (95 percent) of the top 20 contributors to Bernie Sanders since 1989 are unions.

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When it comes to foreign policy, Clinton is a hawk. She not only supported the catastrophic and internationally illegal Iraq War; Clinton also has defended torture, said she would consider dropping nuclear bombs on militants in South Asia, applauded the bombing of Libya, and helped oversee the Obama administration's bloody and indiscriminate drone war.

On social issues, where Clinton is often assumed to be more progressive, the facts show the opposite to be the case. Hillary supported Bill in his gutting of healthcare and in his signing of the heteronormative Defense of Marriage Act. Clinton did not support marriage equality until 2013 -- almost 40 years after Sanders backed gay rights.

On race, about which Sanders is often blasted by the pro-Clinton camp, even MSNBC admits that Sanders, who has strongly condemned structural racism for decades, "is clearly the most consistent candidate on the issue." Clinton may now suddenly claim to oppose mass incarceration -- after fervently supporting her husband's "tough-on-crime" policies that helped spawn it -- but the private prison lobby sees past her empty rhetoric, and is raising tons of cash for her campaign. Sanders, meanwhile, is introducing legislation to ban private prisons.

Clinton’s supporters raise two issues with which to bludgeon Sanders: reproductive rights and gun control.

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On reproductive rights, Sanders has just as good of a record as Clinton. Sanders has a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. (In contrast, every Republican presidential candidate received an F from NARAL.) And Women Are Watching, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, gave Sanders and Clinton the same ratings.

As for gun control, Sanders has a D- from the NRA. Clinton has an F. The difference between the two is just a few points.

The fact of the matter -- and what makes her popularity amongst the liberal intelligentsia so puzzling -- is that Clinton is not a progressive, in spite of her insistence to the contrary in the first presidential debate. She began her career as a liberal Republican, and has continued it as a conservative Democrat.

An exceedingly rich multi-millionaire, Clinton is very much out-of-touch with average Americans, who work long hours and struggle just to get by, crushed under debts, without access to affordable health care. Sanders has proposed solutions to all of this. Clinton has not -- when her positions on issues are even clear.

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Clinton is not leading over Sanders because the latter is unpopular. On the contrary. Sanders is leading in states where voters know who he is, where he has invested resources in running a campaign -- namely in the key primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa. Until recently, the problem was simply that most voters did not even know who Sanders is. And, now that the national Democratic presidential debates have begun, and Sanders is becoming a household name, he continues to grow in popularity -- and with a long way to go, a full year before the election.

The Americans who plan on voting for Sanders have already made up their mind. Clinton and Biden are significantly to the right of Sanders, and there are no other prominent figures expected to interject. Many of the voters who support Clinton, however, would likely be sympathetic to Biden. After all, their views are largely the same.

This is precisely what the pro-Clinton crowd fears. Michael Tomasky conceded that Biden has "no major policy differences with Hillary Clinton." If Biden enters the race, he will likely split Clinton's voting bloc, not Sanders'.

All the signs show Clinton and her supporters are terrified of the meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders. Like Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the U.K.'s Labour Party, Sanders has inspired a thriving mass movement in the U.S. Establishment liberals in the U.K. firmly insisted that Corbyn's strong leftist views would not resonate with the public. The opposite was true. Party-line establishment liberals in the U.S. looked across the ocean in horror as Corbyn won by an enormous, historic landslide, reinvigorating the British Left in the process.

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The Left is on the rise again, and Sanders represents that rise in the U.S.

From the beginning of the presidential campaign, Clinton's supporters assumed they had the election in the bag. Still now, Tomasky et al. just cursorily write off "what appear to be Bernie Sanders's general-election limitations," without quite saying what exactly those purported limitations are. The American people, on the other hand, are indicating the antithesis.

Pro-Clinton pundits appear to be forgetting that the presidential election is precisely that -- a federal election. The presidential election is not a game, and it is not a popularity contest; it is an election. If Biden divides Clinton's votes, so be it. The primary debate is the opportunity for democracy to function, without fear of a Republican winning. The Hillarybot blogosphere appears to have already decided that Clinton has won, and that a Biden entry could wrestle away her victory. Again, this is not how democracy works.

Biden could give Clinton a run for her money, if he decides to run; and Sanders inevitably will, regardless of what Biden decides. Clinton's supporters should accept what the American people, and what half of their own party, want, and let the voters decide.

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Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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